“The Corn Maiden & Other Nightmares” by Joyce Carol Oates (Mysterious Press, 2011)

Corn Maiden & Other Nightmares
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The Corn Maiden and Other Nightmares is a good collection from bestselling and renowned author Joyce Carol Oates, revealing her skill, talent and ability as a horror writer.  The collection features six stories, with its first, the eponymous one, serving as more of a novella to get the book started.  Though in my opinion, it is the final story that really gets to the reader, leaving them feeling on edge long after the book is finished.

“The Corn Maiden” centers around a small town in New England where a young girl has had a rough upbringing with a single mother always working.  Because of this, her growth and development is somewhat stunted, and she’s not altogether with it.  However, she does have beautiful, lustrous, long golden hair, just like the corn maiden out of legend.  Things seem hard for everyone in this town, and they’re all trying their best to get by.

Then there’s the group of four young teenage girls who have never been popular or feel appreciated by anyone; perhaps they feel abandoned and ignored, and certainly consider themselves outcasts.  They like to bully and play tricks on people, be they kids or adults, they just don’t care.  They follow the sound of their own drum.  And now they have a new thing they’d like to try: the corn maiden ritual.  And they’ve got the perfect girl to kidnap and keep in one of their basements in a mansion where she’ll never be noticed.  They will prepare her for the ritual, and like all good rituals, it has to end in sacrifice.

Oates does a great job of juggling a number of characters in this novella, seeing through the kids eyes with their fast-paced quick-thoughts and illogical ways that really puts the reader in the mind of a mischievous child; but also the feeling of loss and despair when one’s own child is kidnapped and missing.  It’s a powerful story that seems a somewhat obvious and simple one at first, but as the reader continues through, it becomes a lot deeper and complex.

“Beersheba” continues the important theme of the important time of childhood and the affect it can have on a person, even years later into adulthood when the past can come back to haunt you in the form of a vengeful step-daughter.  “Nobody Knows My Name” explores the poignant and potent world of a young girl who now has a new sibling, a baby who is sucking all the attention and love from her life, and it’s up to her to do something about it.

Two stories in the collection feature twins.  “Fossil-Figures” is about twins who are very different and each achieves fame and renown in their own way, but one is incredibly jealous of the other’s success, which will ultimately lead to his undoing.  “Death-Cup” is another twin story of revenge and hate, but has a great Edgar Allan Poe feeling about it.

“Helping Hands” is the story of a middle-aged woman bringing her late husband’s clothes to a charity store and feeling something for the employee there who is a veteran; their relationship turns into something completely unpredictable.  The final story, “A Hole in the Head,” is about a successful and well-off cosmetic surgeon who is cajoled into performing a strange and popular procedure, known as trepanning, which is supposed to free oneself, but going down this dark path ends up releasing the doctor’s own demons and desires.

The Corn Maiden & Other Nightmares shows Oates knows how to write great horror, getting deep into the minds of her characters, and taking the reading along.  The stories are dark and moving and disturbing, while the collection as a whole is one that stays with you, even after you’ve put it back on the shelf and some time has passed.

Originally written on February 5, 2013 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of The Corn Maiden & Other Nightmares from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

“Snowblind” by Christopher Golden (St. Martin’s Press, 2014)

Snowblind
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Bestselling author Christopher Golden is known for writing some unusual horror books that blend science fiction and fantasy as well, such as his Hidden Cities series written with Tim Lebbon, including The Map of Moments and The Shadow Men, as well as the riveting thriller The Boys Are Back in Town. In Snowblind, he returns to his plain horror roots with a book that will terrify the crap out of you. It is a story of ghosts and creatures in the snow that can barely be seen, but can snatch you up in a second.

We take you now to a small New England town called Coventry in the wonderful state of Massachusetts. This quaint locale has had more than its fair share of inclement weather, including numerous blizzards that are not easily forgotten. Especially that particularly devastating one that left many without power, as well as numerous cases of strange ice figures witnessed amidst the flying snow. Once the storm was done, there were a fair number of people in the town either missing or found dead due to unknown and mysterious circumstances.

Twelve years have now passed and the events of that devastating blizzard still remain shrouded in icy mystery; those who played a part during that terrible time and came through alive have aged more than a decade but still carry the scars from that time. And now there is another blizzard coming, one that looks to be as bad if not worse than that infamous one, and the locals of the town know it and fear it, wondering if they may be the ones to disappear this time, or be found frozen and dead in the snow days after. But how does one stop an ice creature that can barely be seen and can grab you within the blink of an eye?

Christopher Golden could’ve gone for a straight, scary story about scary creatures during a blizzard, but instead he tells a story about a small town and its inhabitants who know each other well and whom the reader gets to know well, and how they address their fears with the oncoming blizzard. This horror novel is anything but ordinary.

Snowblind is Stephen King meets John Ajvide Lindqvist, pulling on King’s small New England town and normal relatable characters that find themselves in a horror novel, along with Lindqvist’s bizarre, cold twisted nightmare that also features ordinary people who have no idea what they’re going into, but have no choice otherwise. Snowblind will leave you cold and frightened and alone, just like any good horror novel should.

Originally written on February 17, 2014 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of Snowblind from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

You might also like . . .

The Boys Are Back in Town   The Map of Moments  The Shadow Men

“The Necromancer’s House” by Christopher Buehlman (Ace, 2013)

Necromancer's House
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Welcome to a world where magic, curses and monsters from history and folklore are real. Meet Andrew Ranulf Blankenship, a handsome, debonair magician who is used to getting his way and doing pretty much whatever he wants. He has a pet incarnated wicker man that was once a dog that he makes serve him wine, as well as a foul-smelling demonic mermaid that he likes doing the dirty with.

Only this mermaid just took the life of an important high-up member of the Russian mafia. And Blankenship just happens to have a booby trap infested house along with a number of secret tunnels, all to protect a magic Russian treasury hoard stolen thirty years ago from the Soviet Union. And now he has an ancient creature from Russian folklore coming for this throat, his blood and his soul.

The Necromancer’s House is another strong example of Christopher Buehlman’s talent as a writer with its lyrical prose and gripping plot; the reader soon gets hooked into the story. While some readers may get a little lost with the story’s initial convolutedness, in the end the book delivers.

Originally written on December 26, 2013 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of The Necromancer’s House from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

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“The Heavens Rise” by Christopher Rise (Gallery Books, 2013)

Heaven's Rise
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Christopher Rice, son of bestselling horror author Anne Rice, returns with his next novel that is dark and terrifying and mystical in a number of ways, while capturing a feel of New Orleans and that part of the world post-Katrina in a way that only someone deeply familiar with the area could.

This is the story of the strange disappearance of the known and respected Delongpre family; mother, father and daughter lost to the bayou and the world. The daughter, Niquette, is mourned by her boyfriend Anthem and her close friend Ben, while the twisted person Marshall is pretty certain their death was due to his actions. Marshall then throws himself from a high-rise building and ends up in a coma, from which he has gained strange powers.

As years pass and Marshall continues to somehow control others to his whim, it seems perhaps the Delongpres may not be gone for good, as strange things continue to happen, as people fall under a spell, and are not all controlled by Marshall.

Told from various perspectives, Rice has crafted a chilling and thrilling story that abhors as well as entices, leaving the reader turning the pages until the astonishing finale.

Originally written on November 8, 2013 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of The Heavens Rise from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

“Parasite” by Mira Grant (Orbit, 2013)

Parasite
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With the completion of the Newsflesh trilogy that has earned Mira Grant some dedicated readers, she turns to a new series, this one a duology called Parasitology, leaving the zombies behind for now and taking on a perhaps more frightening and realistic subject: parasites. The time is the near future and the concept is what if we kept a tapeworm in our intestines, known as the Intestinal Bodyguard, which could help cure sickness and prevent things like allergies? Sounds great.  But what if these tapeworms became sentient and intelligent?

Sally came back from the dead; she suffered a horrible accident that essentially killed her but thanks to SymboGen she was brought back to life along with her Intestinal Bodyguard. She’s a different person now, changed from who she was; calmer, quieter, less likely to anger. She’s living with her parents again, still getting used to being alive and being a person once more. She has monthly visits with SymboGen as they continue to check on her and perform their experiments to make sure everything inside her is working fine. She works at an animal habitat center and she has a boyfriend; life for Sally now ain’t too bad.

Except things are starting to get weird; some people are starting to act not like people. They’re acting as if someone else is in control of them, turning violent against other people, really violent, and then falling into a sort of catatonic state. It’s seems totally random and no one really knows who’s going to get hit with this weird state next. And SymboGen isn’t saying if they know anything about this. But Sally knows they have to know something, and she’s going to need to work out what exactly is happening to these people and what can be done about it; because if it’s to do with the Intestinal Bodyguard, then this could happen to her too, at any time.

Grant uses a vaguely similar template for Parasite as she did with Newsflesh, and the reader can’t help but think of these people acting weird as being “zombielike,” but she presents plenty of fun surprises and explores some interesting concepts that leave the reader questioning just about everything, plus one gets to learn way more than they wanted about parasites, Mira Grant style.

Originally written on September 23, 2013 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of Parasite from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

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Feed  Deadline  Blackout

“NOS4A2″ by Joe Hill (William Morrow, 2013)

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Joe Hill should have a fairly good idea what it means to be an author, with a couple of books under his belt — Heart-Shaped Box and Horns — as well as a short story collection — 20th Century Ghosts – plus a successful ongoing graphic novel series called Lock & Key; but his latest novel, NOS4A2 puts him on a stage of developed storytelling with his father, Stephen King. The book has an epic complexity and depth in both character and story, with a villain that will haunt your nightmares for a long time to come, akin to King’s It or The Talisman.

Our hero is Victoria McQueen, a young girl with extraordinary dreams and one very powerful ability. When she is given the Raleigh Tuff Burner bike as a birthday gift, she knows it’s a little too big but very powerful, and when she rides it as fast as she can towards that old bridge across the creek that crashed and disintegrated years ago, she can see the bridge rebuilt and she can cross it to just about wherever she wants. Crossing that bridge lets her find things, like a missing bracelet or photograph, or what happened to her cat, as well as answers to questions she might not want to know. She just has to believe, and she is magically taken there, whether it’s Massachusetts or across the country. She is a girl with a gift that only few others have.

Our villain is one Charles Talent Manx who has the same ability as Victoria, except his mode of transportation is a 1938 Rolls-Royce Wraith with the vanity license plate . . . yep, you guessed it: NOS4A2; this black demon car from hell is of course referred to as “The Wraith.” It is with this aged car that Manx takes children who he believes are destined to have traumatic, horrible lives, to his manufactured tinsel town known as “Christmasland,” where every day is Christmas and the children get to go on the rides, and eat candy canes, have snowball fights, and meet Santa; but there is also a cost for these children; something is being taken from them. And they never come back.

But because she is our hero, Victoria will have a meeting and battle with Manx and get him put away for a long time, not for all the missing children, but for something else. But then, many years later, Manx will return, because there’s one thing that’s certain: he’s not human. And this time he’ll be taking Victoria’s child up to Christmasland, and it’s up to her to get him back, before he becomes lost forever.

NOS4A2 shows that Joe Hill has the talent, skill and ability to write a truly great horror novel that puts him right at the top with other greats. NOS4A2 is a novel about many things: our wants and desires in life and that we don’t always get them; how sometimes our nightmares aren’t gone for good; how the love of the child will always supersede anything else, no matter the cost. It is also a fantastic horror novel that will make you simultaneously terrified of it and in love with it, unable to put it down.

Originally written on June 14, 2013 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of NOS4A2 from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

You might also like . . .

Horns  Heart-Shaped Box  20th Century Ghosts

“Joyland” by Stephen King (Titan Books, 2013)

Joyland
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Stephen King, who needs no introduction, returns with a short novel in Joyland, published by Titan books as part of the Hard Case Crime series. But even though the book is under three hundred pages, King easily tells a full and fascinating story that fans and non-King readers will easily enjoy.

Devin Jones is spending the summer at Joyland, an amusement park on the sunny coast of South Carolina. Jones isn’t doing so well; not sure whether he wants to stay in college, plus it’s the early seventies and everything seems uncertain. And the other thing is the love of his live has just broken his heart and he kind of wants his world to end.

But then he starts working at Joyland, where they don’t just sell cotton candy and prizes and rides, but most importantly, they sell fun! He begins to learn the carny life, the carny talk, and the general running of the amusement park, doing a great job as well as being the best guy at “wearing the fur.” Joyland has its mighty Ferris wheel, reaching to the stars, the various carnies who have been working there for years and have their own interesting eccentricities, and the Horror House.

Every amusement park needs its one horror ride, and Horror House is it for Joyland, and this is the ride that has the dark story about it, because some years ago a girl was murdered on the ride, her throat slashed by her supposed boyfriend, her body dumped to the side of the track. She wasn’t found until the early hours of the morning by the cleanup crew; her murderer has never been found. It is said that Horror House is now haunted and sometimes when you’re on the ride, you might see the ghost of her body floating beside you in the car, that red slit throat looking like a wide smile.

Joyland shows how much of a better writer Stephen King has become over the last decade or so, as you have a thrilling horror tale at the heart of the story, but you also have a wonderful character in the teenager, Devin Jones, who has his whole life ahead of him, but feels it is over with his broken heart. Perhaps King was pulling on his own past experience to give this story life and reality that will move the reader, making Joyland stick with them long after they’ve finished the book.

Originally written on June 12, 2013 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of Joyland from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

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11/22/63  Full Dark, No Stars  Under the Dome

“Ash” by James Herbert (Tor, 2012)

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In Ash, bestselling British horror writer James Herbert does what he hasn’t done too often in his career, in bringing back another character.  The parapsychologist David Ash first appeared in Herbert’s Haunted in 1988, and then returned in The Ghosts of Sleath in 1994.  Ash is now back in his eponymous book, a lengthy 700-pager from the British master of horror.

Things are not going too well for the Psychical Institute; times are hard and apparently when money is stretched thin, people don’t need as much helping in dealing with their ghosts.  But then the ultimate case arrives and the head of the institute, Kate McKean, can’t really say no, as it will mean a lot of money for them, keeping them afloat for a number of years.  It involves the haunting of a secretly hidden castle deep within Scotland run by a clandestine group that is incredibly rich.  Comraich Castle is where the world’s richest send their human problems, such as wanted murderers, failed warlords, illegitimate children, and the insane offspring of celebrities.  Here they are kept, fed and looked after for years, or even decades, until they just waste away. McKean has brought in her best parapsychologist, David Ash.  It’s a risky move, as Ash has been through a lot in the past, losing loved ones and turning into an alcoholic at one point.  But this is his big chance and he’s really great at what he does.

Ash travels up to Scotland on a private jet that mid-flight suffers a failure when everything just shuts off, plunging toward the ground, and then miraculously everything comes back on and the plane resumes flight, with the pilots completed stumped as to what happened.  It serves a strong warning sign of what is to come for Ash.  As he begins his investigation with his tools of the trade, he finds little support from the staff at Comraich Castle, and then things just explode into the bizarre and seemingly impossible.  Wild cats in the forest attacking, giant spiders deep beneath the castle in the caves, the insane locked in the dungeons uprising, and a series of hauntings that traumatize the guests.

Ash is a strange book in that it is overly long, with many pages of little happening and things just slowly passing by, and then launching into overly-dramatic action scenes that stretch out for pages and pages.  Some parts are interesting and contemplative, such as some of the unusual guests at the castle, or Comraich’s dark and twisted history stretching back into medieval times.  But then Herbert adds too much, with this clandestine group that has reaches into the government and royal family, akin to the Illuminati to the point where it starts to feel like a Dan Brown book; and then there’s the supposed unwanted strange child of the late Princess Diana that few have ever known about.

There are certainly some good points in Ash, and Herbert makes his book intriguing.  Unfortunately, it feels as if the author lost his way when writing it, wanting to add more and more plot and subplot, and make it longer and longer, when it really should have been better edited and honed as a story.  David Ash is a fractured character who also never seems to get his resolution in this at all, as things just seem to fall into place a little too easy for him, which seems pivotal when as a parapsychologist he’s not even sure what he really believes.  Overall the book feels uncertain and unsure of itself, which in turn sets the reader adrift.

Originally written on February 7, 2013 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of Ash from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

“The Demonologist” by Andrew Pyper (Simon & Schuster, 2013)

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In this new dark thriller, along with elements of horror, Andrew Pyper, author of The Guardians and Los Girls, presents a tale that is perhaps best described as The Historian meets The Exorcist, blending a world of history and symbolism and meaning with one of demons and sheer terror.  If Dan Brown were to pen an outright horror novel, it might look something like The Demonologist.

David Ullman is a college professor who specializes in Christian religions, myths and symbolism; he is also one of the foremost scholars on Milton’s Paradise Lost.  With a failed marriage, apart from his teaching all he truly cares for in his life is his wonderful daughter.  When he is mysteriously offered a free flight and stay in Venice to attend a certain meeting employing his expertise as a “demonologist,” he is very reluctant at first, but then decides to go and give his daughter a short vacation in beautiful Venice.  At the meeting with a stranger he sees something that shouldn’t be possible, that isn’t possible he tells himself.  Fleeing in terror he finds his daughter speaking in the voice of one he has read about and studied in many books, before she jumps from the roof of a high building.  Now he begins his true quest, to hunt down the origin of this voice and creature and with hopes to get his daughter back somehow.

The Demonologist is a balance between an interesting professor waxing about the greatness of Milton with plenty of quotes throughout and thrilling, terrifying action scenes as Ullman confronts what can only be called a demon inhabiting a human form, and he is on the run.  The symbols and meanings seem a big stretch to reach at times, but ultimately lead the character to where he needs to go.  As the novel progresses, things get a little uncanny, which might lose some readers, but Pyper brings them back to home in the end with an intense but satisfying conclusion.

Originally written on July 15, 2012 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of The Demonologist from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

“The Colony” by A. J. Colucci (Thomas Dunne Books, 2013)

Colony
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The Colony, a debut novel from author A. J. Colucci, who has spent fifteen years working as a magazine editor and newspaper reporter, combines elements of styles of the horrific with the likes of Stephen King, along with the science and fast-paced thriller of a Michael Crichton novel.  Slap a catchy James Rollins quote on the cover, and you’ve got yourself a creepy, terrifying, addicting read.

With books about things like killer ants, you want the story to get started right away, and not involve too much build-up.  The Colony does just this with a contemplative prologue that sets up the story, and goes straight into some opening chapters of ordinary New Yorkers going about their daily lives, and then being attacked and overrun by millions of ants, as they are poisoned and eaten alive.

Our main characters are Kendra Hart, a brilliant entomologist working in the deserts of New Mexico, who is picked up by the US government and taken to New York to join the team, which includes her ex-husband, Paul O’Keefe who has become an international celebrity as “the ant guy” and made fortunes from it.  Kendra also finds her ex-boyfriend, Jeremy, on the team, using his entomological and computer skills.

But the bodies are piling up, and things are turning into a national catastrophe.  What all these talented scientists know is that the big invasion is coming too; trillions of ants of a new, murderous species have been growing and multiplying beneath New York City and will soon begin their attack.  It’s up to the ant scientists to come up with a plan to stop them, because they have the military breathing down their necks with the only sure and known way to kill these ants, but that will involve destroying Manhattan with a nuclear bomb.

The Colony is a gripping book that’s hard to put down.  While the quasi love-triangle gets a little heavy handed in the middle of everything going on, Colucci does a great job of mixing up action packed scenes with descriptively horrific moments involving a tiny, seemingly innocent insect.  The Colony gives you shivers and sets your heart racing; just what every good book should do.

Originally written on February 6, 2013 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of The Colony from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

For an exclusive interview with the author, A. J. Colucci, click HERE.